Review – Decade, Headlong, National Theatre at St Katharine Docks

Thursday 22 September 2011

And really, when you think about it, what better way to mark the tenth anniversary of one of the biggest man-made catastrophes of modern times than by creating another one?

That nice Rupert Goold and his Headlong company and the National Theatre have conspired to create Decade, a response to 9/11A large space in Commodity Quay at St Katharine Docks has been quite cleverly converted (take a bow Frau Buether) into Windows On The World, the restaurant at the top of the twin towers which was quite swanky judging by the £6-a-glass-for-a-red-wine-prices. Given the effort that has gone into its creation one might expect the spectacular “views” out of the huge vertical windows at each end of the room to look as if though were taken from the World Trade Centre rather than say, The Rockefeller Centre, but presumably there are practical considerations there.

Anyway, before being shown to their tables the punters pass through metal detectors and some are subjected to an interview. The Whingers were spared interrogation, presumably as it was obvious that we have nothing of interest to say. There was a poster warning against taking snow globes in so we weren’t entirely clear whether we were meant to be taking this seriously or having fun. Either way we failed to make any sense of this tacky preamble.

The audience is shown to cabaret style tables or sat in booths and actors fuss around pretending they are waiters and waitresses (the ones not pretending to be immigration officials anyway). There is a big oval stage in the middle plus stages at either end (reminiscent of Earthquakes in London).

Decade is the result of many, many writers being invited to pen factual and fictional responses to the event. Greenland and A Thousand Stars... were child’s play compared with this: everyone and his dog seems to have had a hand in it Samuel Adamson, Mike Bartlett, Alecky Blythe, Ben Ellis (he came to one of our parties once!), DC Moore and even the telly historian Simon Schama.

19 of them! Who wrote what isn’t clear but then nor is the writing. One possible explanation as to how they managed to cut this down from its original three and a half hours is that they simply cut the beginning and the end of some of the sketches and the middles out of the rest.

There was a balloon and a cross woman shedding eczema flakes (a theatrical first for us – flaky skin as semiotic indicator), then someone else rode a bicycle (something Phil is considering adding to his ever expanding list of theatrical bêtes noires). According to the programme it was “exhilarating, provocative and spectacular” but you wouldn’t have been able to tell by looking at the faces of the audience. One man had his head on the table.

Andrew’s only consolation was that his discomfort was vastly outweighed by that of the cast who were called upon to do some embarrassing dancing (which Phil quite liked but then have you seen Phil’s dancing?).

If the tragedy of 9/11 taught us anything it’s that life is short. Certainly too short to spend it sitting through Decade.


13 Responses to “Review – Decade, Headlong, National Theatre at St Katharine Docks”

  1. I cried my eyes out during all the musical numbers, which I loved, but found the second half could have done with an extremely ruthless cull.

  2. Anon Says:

    The snow globes ban is real – I saw a sign telling me I couldn’t take one on board a flight when I flew cross country in the US.

  3. David N Says:

    Mean, possibly unfair – not my experience, which was very mixed – but very funny. Do wish I’d thought up ‘flaky skin as semiotic indicator’. The writing of that scene was beyond bad.

  4. Patricia Says:

    I agree, the Windows on the World set didnt work. Especially because Rupert Goold took pains to say beforehand that they didnt want to stage the actual event. Also tacky were the periodic blackouts, complete with 9/11 ish glass crashing. What’s the point if you want to stay away from the actual event?

    I loved the playlet about the Panamanian 9/11 souvenir seller who passes as Arab, and seduces women fresh from their 9/11 tour. It was unusual, multilayered, troubling, yet amusing. Jonathan Mancini played him brilliantly, and my American friend said his Latino New York accent was great.

    Speaking of accents… British actors are supposedly better at accents than Americans. Yet some of the accents in this play were not up to snuff. Perhaps Goold had his hands full and told actors to make do. Not good enough, esp when the play is full of American characters. Even I noticed the wobbliness. Claire Prempeh, as a waitress, was particularly uneven, her accent ambling between a southern Black accent, and various types of New York ish and suburban accents.

    Perhaps they still have time to save the day and hire an accent tutor. It would make the 3 hour length go a bit faster.

  5. Carinda Says:

    Loved the imagistic movement choreography by Scott Ambler. But even with minor culls (I’ve heard they’re still cutting scenes or sequences), it’s still 3 hours.

    I agree that Jonathan Bonnici as the sweet seducing salesman; and as Arab immigratn shopkeeper, was a treat to watch. Charlotte Randle as a widow, and as 9/11 survivor hoaxer Tania Head was also excellent. As were their accents.

    I agree that some actors’ accents were definitely not up to scratch. The wonky accents I noticed were also Claire Prempeh as the cafe waitress. Definitely a shame, as so much work was put into this production. And a real embarassment, especially to Americans watching the show, who I overheard talking about the accents at length afterwards.

  6. Annie Says:

    Beautiful choreography helped the 3 hours go by.The most arresting, soundless tableaux and action happened in the upper glassed-in balconies- including stunned office workers, doctors pushing stretchers in slo-mo, and ordinary New Yorkers going about their day before 9/11 (for some reason this was most tearful for me). But inexplicably, there was one pointless, embarassingly awkward dance – between a US embassy man and his Pakistani girlfriend, after a Karachi hospital scene.

    Wonder why no actual American actors selected for this. Most accent changes were brilliant. So the ones that werent, absolutely stuck out.

  7. Seb Says:

    Very long, but thought provoking. The ‘flaky skin’ speed dating scene had potential: a 40+ British woman, trying to get her life in order and create life, while not wanting to dwell or talk about the fact that her life was irrevocably changed by “going out for the coffee run” when the planes hit WTC. But more could’ve been made of how she left New York and lived all over the Middle East and Asia. And about how the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur (where the scene takes place) were built according to the Pillars of Islam. I also found it odd that no actual Malaysian characters were in the speed date; more could have been made of that as well.

    I agree, although most accents were brilliant and effortless. But the ‘wonky’ accents were indeed cringe-worthy. Especially Claire Prempeh, who couldnt pick one accent for her character.

    Also, Prempeh made a major gaffe, and no one seems to have caught it . (Friends who’ve seen the show since tell me she’s still doing it): Prempeh says the word “naught” to mean “zero” when saying the date ” ’01”. That’s a very British word. Americans would say the letter “O”. As in “O One”. It’s hard to beleive Rupert Goold and all the other asst directors failed to catch this. For such an important historical date, it is a real shame that a single word gaffe like this can have such an impact. But it does.

  8. Phil Setren Says:

    Oh Dear. Dancing firefighters was a tasteless moment, and I could not believe what I was watching. This was a showy eveing full of gaping holes, and came nowhere near the potential of this group of writers. The actors, who were strong, deserved better.

    I suppose some dance lifts things, but it so often felt inappropriate. Plot strands were dropped all over the place, and we were asked to forgive it all when fed ‘over-the-top’ theatrics?

  9. C Says:

    Saw the production last night, felt that I was trapped in a bunker with some Rada students rehearsing their finals monologues. My eyes wanderd to the audience, (I’d given up on the perf during the interval) Noticed some teenagers there – they all looked perplexed to say the least – I wondered if it was some sort of middle class punishment… however, the sight of them giggling at the rear view of the actress clad in the too short shorts was amusing- yes, that’s how board I was.

    I was willing it to end, particularly during the second half – the final plunge into darkness came as huge relief. And I’m pleased to say that both the teens and the rest of the audience didn’t disappoint, as the vision of them fleeing for the nearest exit remains – it’s a wonder some of them weren’t trampled.

    70.00+ – for a bad trip to Tower Hill, a circuitous walk to the venue, (that on arrival we found could have been avoided), to sit hungry in a pretend restaurant staring at a fake menu – only option the real bar serving overpriced drinks and bar snacks – £1 for a packet of 40p crisps!

  10. Frango Says:

    Three hours of torture, with the exception of the souvenir seller it was dreadful. I spent the whole time desperately trying to work out a way to leave. Some light relief came when the elderly woman in front of us let out a massive fart but I found the rest of the evening utterly miserable. Realising at ‘2008’ that the widows’ annual meeting was being shown in reverse and would continue to 2001 made me want to cry.

  11. […] London Shows ClosingSaturday is your last chance to see The Baker’s Wife at the Union Theatre; Decade in St Katharine’s Docks; Di and Viv and Rose at the Hampstead Theatre; The Go! Go! Go! Show at […]

  12. Hamish Says:

    I saw the play yesterday and whilst not too impressed I have admittedly spent the last couple of hours trying to find a song I heard in the play. If I remember correctly the song was played whilst two characters danced through the audience and the song had something about ‘weather’ or ‘weatherman’… If anyone knows the name of the song please let me know! Thanks 🙂

  13. Janet Says:

    I must have also seen DECADE on student night. I assumed they came to see the q/a with Rupert Goold. But no, they all left instantly.

    The actors worked brilliantly together, and I enjoyed most of the movement choreography. I actually didn’t mind the firemen, as they just walked, they didn’t really dance. And the thud of their authentic outfits was real. I didn’t like the silly dance after the hard-to-understand Karachi scene; unlike the rest of the show, it was very gratuitously dance-ey.

    I agree that while most American accents were good, one stood out as badly needing help; Claire Prempeh as the waitress. My friend bought a programme, and I see they hired a dialect tutor, Richard Ryder. But it almost seems as though he ran out of time before he could help Ms. Prempeh. My American friends, who hail of all ethnicities, all cringed, and felt sorry for Ms. Prempeh.

    It was a valiant effort, but did not impress me much.

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